GuideStone: The Preservation of the Gospel - Part 3
Along the road on our journey back to Jerusalem we now come to GuideStone No. 3. It has been left for us by our spiritual forefathers to point the direction of the preservation of the gospel message and to warn of danger for the church if we do not pass along the “apostles’ doctrine” to the next generation. Tragically, the call of much of modern church growth has with it a de-emphasis on the great doctrinal truths of the faith which have framed our beliefs for centuries. One of the signature marks of this early church was that they did not just start well but they “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine” (Acts 2:42). They preserved doctrinal truth in their lifetime and faithfully passed it on to future generations. How did they accomplish this? By continuing to teach doctrine and realizing they were what Paul would later call “stewards of the gospel.”
The call to the exclusivity of the gospel is not a message that has “made in America” stamped upon it. It is good news that has “made in heaven” stamped on it, it was delivered to a Palestinian world 2,000 years ago in the body of Christ who “became flesh and dwelt among us”, it was delivered to us through the faithfulness of the apostolic preachers and millions of martyrs through the centuries who gave their lives for this exclusive truth, and now, we are “stewards” of this gospel. Ours is an awesome responsibility. The Christian ministry to which we are called is a sacred stewardship. It is up to us to preserve this gospel message for the next generations. Paul saw himself as “God’s steward” (Titus 1:7) and referred to himself and Apollos as “stewards of the mysteries of God”(1 Cor. 4:1). In the same Corinthian passage he went so far as to say that it is “required of stewards to be faithful.” As we come to this third guidestone along the way to rediscovering the emphasis of church growth found in Jerusalem, we come face to face with the fact that it is not just our responsibility to live in the power of the gospel, nor simply to proclaim the gospel, but it is ours to preserve the gospel and, as we see in Jerusalem, to preserve the new converts with whom the Lord entrusts us.
As the early church began to grow we discover in Acts that their purpose for gathering together was primarily for the exaltation of Christ and the edification of the believers. It seems that, in many of the New Trendy gospel churches, the sole purpose of gathering is to create an atmosphere conducive and acceptable to the “seeker.” This is in stark contrast to the approach of the New Testament church. They did not see their job as creating an atmosphere to get “seekers” into their church, but to so create an atmosphere where God could get in! The modern approach has inverted the great commission’s call to “go and tell” and replaced it with “come and hear.”
Acts 2:41–46 outlines for us the New Testament method for preserving the gospel and the converts with
whom we are entrusted. It points us to three important areas — baptism, the Bible and the body-life concept. The scripture records:
“Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them. And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart” (Acts 2:41–46).
God-blessed churches are not only made up of those who appreciate the power of the gospel and proclamation of the gospel but also the preservation of the gospel. The Bible says these early believers “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship” (Acts 2:42, KJV). There are three elements involved in the preservation of new converts in the church of Jesus Christ. They are baptism, the Bible and body life.
One can never grow to Christian maturity apart from the Bible. Perhaps the worst problem in many churches is a host of spiritual infants who have never grown in their faith because they have been fed a diet of pop psychology and seeker sociology instead of New Testament theology.
A number of years ago, two eight-year-old boys were brought to Orlando to the world-famous amusement parks. They each had a disease which aged their bodies far in advance of their years. While the boys were only children, their appearance was that of 80-year-old men. They were children who had grown old and were about to die but had never grown up.
As I watched those two boys on the newscast, I thought about how so many are like that in the church today. They are children who have grown old in the faith but have never grown up in some ways. This is a tragedy of the New Trendy gospel.
If you have ever had a baby in your home, there are some things you have readily observed. As much as you love them, babies do want their own way. They want what they want, when they want it! Also, you will note that babies seem basically lazy. That is, they lie around a lot. They don’t (and can’t) wash any of the dishes, make any of the beds, or pick up any of the dirty clothes. The fact is they’ve simply not grown enough to make “mature” decisions and perform certain duties.
Another obvious characteristic of a baby is that he or she is taken up with personalities. As far as we know, a baby can’t look beyond a personality to have a spirit of discernment. The biggest mass murderer in America could come into their room and utter a few ga-ga’s and goo-goo’s and have a baby smiling. Another of the most evident characteristics of a baby is that he can play while big things are happening. Some families can be going through the heartache of divorce or death, while all the time the baby is down on the floor playing with a ball. Finally, babies get easily upset. If you don’t believe it, just don’t give a baby a bottle at the time she thinks she needs it and see her reaction!
All of the above are signs of babes in Christ. They may be 70 years old, but if they have never matured in their faith, their feelings are the same spiritually as those babies are physically. Babies in the church always want their own way. They have no spirit of submission. They are not interested in what other church members think. Babies in the church are basically lazy. You will not find them out on outreach night or involved in other ministries.
Like physical babies, they do not give of themselves in the realm of time, talent or tithe. Also, they are unconcerned about others. They are taken up with personalities. They want to be entertained. They have no spirit of discernment between the spirit of good and the spirit of wrong. One of the most tragic facts about babies in the church is that, like physical babies, they play when big things are happening. Tremendous transformations take place in people’s lives, and people are saved and pass from darkness into light, but it really makes no difference to a spiritual baby since his greatest concern is getting to the cafeteria line and making sure the service does not go past noon. Spiritual babies also become upset easily.
We know what children need. All they need is to grow up! And it is impossible to grow up as a Christian apart from the Word of God. The early church preserved their new converts and the way they did it was through baptism, the Bible, and body life.
The first important element in preservation is believer’s baptism. In Acts 2:38–41, Peter called upon his hearers to “repent and be baptized.” Why? Because it is essential in preservation. As soon as these early believers were saved, they were immediately baptized. This is seen throughout the Book of Acts.
Today, we often hear some people talk about the fact that a new convert has to “prove” himself before being baptized, but this was certainly not the case in the early church. Acts 8 recorded the baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch:
“Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.
"As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, "See, here is water.
What hinders me from being baptized?""
"Then Philip said, "If you believe with all your heart, you may.""
"And he answered and said, ‘I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.""
"So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him” (vv. 36-;38).
In Acts 10, there was baptism of the family of Cornelius:
"Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” (v. 47).
In Acts 16, Lydia was baptized after her conversion:
"One of those listening was a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul's message. When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. "If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.’ So she persuaded us" (v. 15).
In the same chapter the Philippian jailer was gloriously saved and immediately baptized:
"He then brought them out and asked, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?""
"They replied, ‘So they said, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.’ Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes. And immediately he and all his family were baptized" (Acts 16:30-33).
What is baptism? It is a picture of death to the old life and resurrection to walk in newness of life (see Rom. 6:4). The truth of Scripture is you should be baptized as a confession of your faith as soon as possible after conversion. First there is conviction (Acts 2:37). Then there is conversion. Then there is confession (Acts 2:38). Baptism is confession for the believer. The reason many churches do not have preservation in their membership, even though they may have participation and proclamation, is because of a lack of emphasis on the first step of obedience, which is baptism.
Why do Southern Baptists emphasize baptism so much? It is not because the water will wash away a single sin, but it is vitally important to spiritual growth and preservation. If we are not obedient to the first step of Christian growth, how are we ever going to grow? If we do not live up to the light God gives us, how are we going to expect any more light? It is no wonder that more Christians do not grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord. So many say, “Well, I’m going to think about baptism for a while.” Baptism is an essential step in preservation and Christian growth. GuideStone No. 3 points us to the danger of de-emphasis upon baptism that is prevalent in many of the New Trendy gospel churches. In the New Testament church, it was a high priority and important step in the preservation of new believers.
What is true New Testament baptism? It is best illustrated with the wedding ring. While wearing a wedding ring does not make one married, it certainly is an indication that one has made that commitment. On July 24, 1970, my wife gave me a wedding ring as we stood publicly at a wedding altar and committed our lives to each other. I have worn that ring every day since as a means of identification regarding that commitment. She could have given me my wedding ring three months before we were married, and I could have worn it, but it would have meant nothing. Many people have been baptized before they made their commitment to Christ. Believer’s baptism must be subsequent to our time of commitment as a confession of such.
Baptism is commanded in the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19–20). It is the first public act of the believer in his confession of faith in Christ. It is ordinarily the door into the visible, local church. It is the initial ordinance (Acts 2:41; Acts 8:12; 1 Cor. 12:12–14; 1 Pet. 3:21). The act of baptism involves a personal obligation on the part of the believer to promote the cause of Christ represented by the work of the church. The true New Testament church is a soul-saving, baptizing, teaching, preaching, evangelistic institution, and the baptized believer is now a part of that great, missionary, worldwide ministry. We are united by the Spirit in the worship of God in praise, in thanksgiving, in prayer, and in the diffusion of the saving message of Christ to every creature. We are joined together in the body of our Lord for instruction, for spiritual growth, and for mutual helpfulness. It is a great, glorious, mighty, significant day when we are baptized into the body of Christ, the bride and church of our Lord.1
What then is the mode of New Testament baptism? The Greek word found here in the text is baptizo. It means to plunge, dip, submerge or put under. It is used no fewer than 74 times in the New Testament. This particular word which means to put under is not only found in the New Testament, it is extensively used in Greek literature. In Greek literature the word baptizo meant, in some cases, to suffer shipwreck, to sink or to perish in the water. The story is told of a Greek sea captain whose vessel was going down and he broadcast this "Mayday" message, "Baptizo, baptizo!” (I'm sinking. I'm sinking!) Since our Lord has commanded us to be baptized, it is certainly imperative that we should desire the proper New Testament mode. This mode of baptism is immersion.
The word in the original language, found in Acts 2:41, means to immerse. It is as plain as the nose on your face when you read the Scripture. We read that baptism required “much water." Take, for example, John 3:23 "Now John also was baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there. And they came and were baptized." Baptism is described as a "going down into the water." "And he ordered the chariot to stop. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him" (Acts 8:38).
New Testament baptism is like a “burial” under the water.
"Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life" (Rom. 6:4).
"Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him" (Rom. 6:8).
New Testament baptism is described as coming up out of the water. "When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him" (Matt. 3:16).
The crystal-clear truth of Scripture is that baptism is by immersion. And it should always follow salvation! If you have not been immersed since your salvation experience, you have not undergone New Testament baptism. This is not the view of any particular church. It is the truth of Scripture. Baptism should take place after salvation and not before. Note the order in Acts 2:38, "Repent and be baptized."
The same order is found in Acts 2:41: "Then those who gladly received his word were baptized."
There are churches which practice infant baptism. Some churches baptize babies and very young children who have not yet had a genuine salvation experience. Many of these churches use Acts 2:39 as a proof text which goes: “For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.” They claim infants should be baptized. But what does Acts 2:39 really teach? Read it carefully. Some take this verse and put a period after the word “children” so that it reads, “The promise is to you and to your children.” Thus, they insist infants ought to be sprinkled −their argument being that the blessings of the covenant are for them and their children. But you cannot chop off a verse halfway and make it fit your own personal philosophy of theology.2
What is Acts 2:39 actually conveying? Look at it carefully. “For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.” (italics added). It is not only for you and your children; it is for those who are "far off." So then I may argue, "The promise is to you and to your children": therefore your children should be baptized. If we go on with the text, "and for all who are afar off," then all who are afar off should also be baptized. Therefore, we would be saying, all who are afar off should be baptized whether they are saved or not. So goes this reasoning, and it is completely unbiblical!
What does this text actually mean? It is pointing out that this covenant promise, "whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved" (Acts 2:21,KJV), is meant for you and your children...and for those who are far off -- the African natives, the ebony-faced women of Ghana, the Eskimos in their igloos in Alaska, and anybody anywhere “to whom the Lord our God will call” is addressed. Someone quickly replies, "But whole households were baptized in the Book of Acts." Yes, but there is no scriptural reason to believe that in any case they did not first repent as Peter had preached in Acts 2:38. And after they had done this, then they were baptized!
Imagine the effect on Jerusalem when 3,000 people came out of the shadows to identify with the Lord Jesus Christ through believer’s baptism. It is no wonder the whole city was stirred and moved. It is no wonder spiritual awakening came to Jerusalem. The first step in preserving new converts is to see them through the waters of baptism. Peter unapologetically and personally appealed to his hearers to be baptized. Every church should exhort their converts to be baptized, not because the water would save them or wash away their sins, but because it is the first step in preservation, growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord. The truth is if we do not live up to the light God has given us, we can never expect to receive any more light.
Baptism is a means of identification. There is a prevalent trend in our culture. People today like to identify with certain things or persons. Some people wear key rings with Mercedes Benz emblems, while others wear Gucci shoes with its emblem. Still others would not think of carrying anything but a Mont Blanc pen, while others wouldn't wear a tie that was not a Hermes. People like to identify with their schools so they wear a class ring or class sweater. There are some who would not wear a sweater that did not have the emblem of Ralph Lauren. There are still others who are quick to identify with certain watches.
Baptism gives us an opportunity to do what we like to do. That is, identify with something. Or, rather in this case, someone! Baptism is a means of identification. It lets the world know we have identified with Jesus Christ. What makes a church great in the eyes of God? The power of the gospel, the proclamation of the gospel, and preservation of the gospel. The first step in preservation is baptism.
The second step in preservation is the Bible. "And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine"(Acts 2:42). That is, they continued in the Word of God. The word didache means doctrine.
This consisted of the fundamentals of the faith. They devoted themselves to such great doctrinal truths as the virgin birth of Christ, His sinless life and vicarious death, His bodily resurrection, and His second coming. They grounded themselves and continued in the great doctrinal truths of the Word of God.
We are not called merely to make decisions; we are called to make disciples. a person is genuinely saved, one ";continues in the apostles' doctrine." Our Lord Himself observed, "By their fruits you shall know them." here can be no preservation in the church where the Bible, and its doctrine and teaching, are not expounded and explained to the people. Many wonder why membership dwindles in some churches. It is because God blesses His Word, and when it is not used, there is no preservation. The church exploded in Jerusalem because they continued steadfastly "in the apostles' doctrine." They were rooted and rounded
in the Word of God. Our only hope for preservation is the Word of God. You cannot grow in faith without that Word. You may be saved and be baptized, but if you do not devote yourself to the apostles' teaching, you will never grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ.
Paul wrote to Timothy that the Word of God was "profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction and instruction in righteousness." This is throughout the Scriptures. In Romans, the Bible is profitable for doctrine. In the Corinthian letters, the Bible is profitable for reproof. In Galatians, the Bible is profitable for correction. In Ephesians, it is profitable for instruction in righteousness. The Bible is like God's road map. First, there is doctrine. We begin down the road with Christ, and we face the amazing doctrinal truth of the Deity of Christ. He is God. When we obey and come to Christ, we are walking on the road with Him. But what happens when we veer along the road? We see secondly that the Bible is profitable for reproof. It reproves us and helps us recognize a wrong turn. God said, "Is not My word like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?" (Jer. 23:29).How does one straighten out one's path? Here we find the Bible is profitable for correction. The Word shows us how to get back on track with God, but it doesn’t leave us there. Finally, it is profitable for instruction in righteousness (2 Tim.3:16-17). The Word shows us how to stay on the road so we will not wander off again. It is profitable and essential in our preservation and growth.
On the night shift, a young bivocational preacher was using his New Testament to witness during the company’s 11:00 p.m. break. One of the listeners commented, "Yeah, just look at that guy leaning on his crutch."
To that the preacher replied, "You're right. It's my lifelong crutch, and I can't do anything without leaning on it! It's life-giving, powerful, and sharper than a two-edged sword. Yes, it's my crutch. It's a crutch for poor, crippled sinners, and it'll boost them into heaven!"
"What if I say --
"The Bible is God’s Holy Word,
Complete, inspired, without a flaw"--
But let its pages stay,
Unread from day to day,
And fail to learn there from God's law;
What if I go out there to seek
The truth of which I glibly speak,
For guidance on this earthly way, --
Does it matter what I say?"3
What makes a church great? The preservation of the gospel entails making much of baptism and much of the Bible.
The third important element in preservation is body life. This body life concept is found in Acts 2:42–46:
“And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart.”
These people spent their time learning, loving and listening to each other. Great churches are characterized by this body life concept. Every member is a minister and everyone functions within the body together. There was fellowship in this early church. “They continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship” (Acts 2:42, author’s italics). The word is koinonia. It means they were “all together” and they loved each other. It was one for all and all for one. It was a shared life.
The origin of the word koinos (from which koinonia is derived) means common, not in the sense we often think of today. It meant that which people share or have together. Consider the phrase, “and they had all things common” in relation to the Jerusalem church. Even in our current generation we often use the phrase, “We or they have such and such in common.” It implies a like trait or characteristic.
All of us are familiar with metal money which is called a coin or coins. Those terms are straight from the Greek language. What is a coin used for? It is used for exchange, and it passes from hand to hand. Those who have phobias about germs probably think about a quarter, half dollar or even pennies as possibly being soiled because they have passed from hand to hand. A coin is a common piece shared by perhaps hundreds, maybe even thousands of hands.
Thus, it is with the koinonia we have in Christ. Koinonia ideally means, not merely fellowship, but a life which is shared. Every born-again believer has a common Savior, faith, experience, goal and destiny. Wherever you meet another genuine Christian, you have an immediate spiritual tie. If only we could remember this, churches would have virtually no real problems because all Christians are together through “the scarlet thread” of the blood of Jesus Christ which has drawn us and sewn us together into God’s tapestry of the redeemed.
Koinonia is not merely coming together to have a meal or to participate in church activities. When a person is born again into God’s family, he immediately has a kinship to every believer here and in the hereafter!
What happened? The coming and filling of the Holy Spirit caused them to live life on a higher plane of love for God and for one another. There are different Greek words which are translated into our English Bible with the word love. There is the word agape which means giving, forgiving, unreserved or selfless — God’s love. There is also philos which means tender affection, the brotherly sort of love. Prior to Pentecost, the best the apostles could do was to love on the level of philos. In fact, that is the best anyone can do without the Holy Spirit in his or her heart.
For example, you remember the conversation of our Lord Jesus with Simon Peter on the shore before Pentecost. John 21:15 records it. The Lord asked him, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?” The word He used was agape.
Simon answered. “Yes, Lord, You know that I love You.” Peter replied with the word phileo. It was the best Peter could do.4
Then on the night before the crucifixion, Jesus instructed His apostles,
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34–35).
Here is the word agape. Jesus was leaving His followers. They had watched His life for three years and up until then, the best they could do was to love on the level of philos love. It was the level of the old commandment which taught to “love your neighbor as yourself’” (Lev. 19:18). But now, love was not an option. It was to be a new commandment. It was to be agape and not philos. The point is this: Prior to Pentecost one could not love properly with God’s love because it is impossible without the Spirit’s love burning within us. This love came into the disciples when they were filled with the Holy Spirit, and thus they “continued steadfastly in…fellowship.” This is why Paul later wrote in Galatians 5:22, “the fruit of the Spirit is love” (agape).
There was a legend that a rich merchant scoured the Mediterranean world looking for the distinguished apostle Paul. He encountered Timothy, as the legend goes, who arranged a visit with Paul, who was a prisoner in Rome at that time. Entering the jail cell, the merchant found a rather old man, physically broken down. The merchant was amazed at Paul’s personal peace and serenity. The story goes that they talked for hours. The merchant left with Paul’s blessing and prayer on his heart and mind. Outside the concerned merchant inquired, “What is the key to Paul’s power? I have never seen anyone like him in my entire life.”
“Haven’t you figured it out?” asked Timothy. “Paul is in love.”
The businessman with bewilderment asked, “In love?”
“Yes,” Timothy answered, “Paul is in love with Jesus Christ.”
The man looked even more confused. “Is that all?” he further inquired.
With a smile on his face, the young preacher answered, “Ah, but that is everything.”
This has so many applications. For example, this is why it is essential for a Christian to marry another believer and not an unbeliever. Try as he may, an unbeliever can never love a mate with the highest level of love, the most selfless kind of love (agape), because it is only found in Jesus Christ.
We need each other. Great churches are made up of great fellowship. We can be baptized and be in the Bible but still cannot grow without this concept of body life — fellowship. We need each other. There has never been a great church in the eyes of God without this element of fellowship. Some “professed believers” have such little fellowship with the people of God. We all ought to ask ourselves if we are merely singing hymns, saying words, and coming to meetings, just going through the motions. Some of us live like the world, think like the world, talk like the world, act like the world, and then go to church, watch our watches, and if the service goes over an hour we fidget. At the same time, we can go to a ball game, movie or party and say, “How time flies,” when we have been there three hours or more. And you tell me you are going to go to heaven, praise the Lord, and fellowship with the people of God there when you don’t desire that fellowship here. Who are you kidding?
What makes a great church? Preservation involves baptism, the Bible and body life. The first part of body life is fellowship, but there is also the importance of the “breaking of bread” (Acts 2:42, italics added). That is the Lord’s Supper. Luke does not simply refer to having meals together. He makes the point that the early church came together to share in the symbolic testimony of the body and blood of Christ which is the basis of the Christian life. What is the breaking of bread? It is the Lord’s Supper — the unleavened bread and the cup of unfermented juice from the vine. We have continued in this until this very day. It is a part of our preservation.
"Thy supper, Lord, before us spread,
The cup beside the broken bread,
Reminds us of Thy life laid down --
The shameful cross, the thorny crown.
Thy sacrifice was for our gain;
To save us Thou didst bear the pain.
Thy love is clear for all to see;
We bow in thankful prayer to Thee.
In fellowship with Thee we feel
That Thou art here, Thy presence real;
Thou hast risen and dost live
Within our hearts, new life to give
Now may the worship we know here
Remind us always thou art near;
Help us to live our lives each day
In love and faith, O Lord, we pray."
They also continued steadfastly in “prayer” (see Acts 2:42). They continued in prayer. This is how they began. For 10 days they prayed in the upper room. Some of us begin but never continue. Please note that they “continued steadfastly” in prayer, not just in teaching, fellowship, and breaking of bread, but in prayer, beseeching the Lord at the throne of grace.
These early believers “continued steadfastly in prayers.” Prayer is the cradle of revival. Jesus said, “My house shall be called the house of prayer.” So many believers get dressed up in the whole armor of God of Ephesians 6.We put on the helmet of salvation and the breastplate of righteousness while holding the shield of faith and the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God. We also have around our loins the girdle of truth and on our feet shoes with the preparation of the gospel of peace. We are ready to go for God.
But the problem often lies in the fact that many of us don’t even know where the battle is being fought. After telling us all the pieces of the armor, Paul links armor with prayer in the next verse “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit” (Eph. 6:18, KJV).
Prayer is the battlefield of the Christian life. It is impossible to win a war unless we march to the field. Consequently, the most important ministry of a local church should be the ministry of prayer. The most important room in all of the physical facilities of the church ought to be the intercessory prayer chapel, where many people “stand in the gap” and intercede to the Father on behalf of members and ministries.
In fact, before every great undertaking, we should have days of prayer and fasting. The first committee appointed during a multimillion-dollar building program we had in our church was a prayer committee which continually kept prayer needs before our people week by week. Our Sunday morning services began with our men on their knees at the altar beseeching the God of heaven for His power to fall upon us. Our Wednesday evening services concluded with scores of people at the altar praying for the lost and for physical, emotional, and spiritual needs as we “pray for one another.” Yes, Jesus said that His house was to be called “the house of prayer.” The heart-cry, “Revive us again,” will never be realized unless it is ushered in on the wings of personal intercessory prayer.
They also had a sharing spirit. Acts 2:42–44 says, “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common.”
They had the theme that every member was a minister. I doubt if they said, “Let Peter do it” or “Let’s let Joseph of Arimathea pull a string with the United Way of Jerusalem.” Everyone was together, and they all did their part.
Some contend that this sounds like communism. This was not communism in Acts 2. These people believed in God; this was church-controlled and not state-controlled; it was voluntary, and it was obviously temporary. Many Jews were away from home in Jerusalem for the Passover Feast. We do not read about it happening later in the early church, but the point is they had this concept of body life! What is the difference in what we see here and in communism today? Communism says, “What’s yours is mine.” This sharing in the Jerusalem church stated, “What’s mine is yours.”5 And this is a stark difference! And that is why communism crumbled all over the world in our lifetime.
Everything the believers owned was at God’s disposal when needed. This is the point. Is everything we own at God’s disposal today? What if God were to impress upon your heart to give a certain amount of your stock portfolio or your real estate holdings? What if God were to impress upon you to give that precious possession to share it with the fellowship of believers?
Another concept of body life was “gladness and simplicity of heart,” (Acts 2:46, KJV). This was a joyful church. A gloomy Christian is a contradiction in terms. Joy filled the atmosphere of the presence of these people at Pentecost.
Another aspect of their body life was worship and praise (Acts 2:46–47). Praise is the secret of the liberated life! There is power in praise. “God inhabits the praises of his people,” and we are to praise Him in song, word, and action. The truth is we cannot grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord without being involved in personal praise. In Ephesians 5:18, we find the command, “be filled with the Spirit,” and in the next verse we notice the result in “singing and making melody in our hearts to the Lord” (Eph. 5:19, KJV).
These early believers lived in an atmosphere of the fear of God. The Bible records that, at Pentecost, “fear came upon all of them” (Acts 2:43). They lived their lives in an environment of the awareness of the reverential awe of a Holy God. Later the scripture records, “Then the church throughout all Jerusalem, Judea and Galilee had peace and was edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord and the comfort of the Holy Spirit, they were multiplied” (Acts 9:31). Multiplied! What did they learn that somehow we have forgotten? They were “walking in the fear of the Lord.” For the Jerusalem church it was not the fear that God might put His hand of retribution on them but the fear that he might take His hand of anointing and blessing off of them! Who is talking about walking in the fear of the Lord today? We don’t hear it in church growth conferences, and yet it is on virtually every page of the book of Acts. I believe it was one of the secrets to the explosive growth of the New Testament church of the first century.
In the midst of a church world where many advocates of the New Trendy gospel attend church services without so much as even carrying a Bible (perhaps because it is seldom used in worship experiences) it does us well to pause a moment along the road back to Jerusalem at this third guidestone and be reminded that the preservation of the gospel is about “continuing in the apostles’ doctrine.” We are “stewards” of these eternal truths and it remains to be seen what kind of “gospel” the second and third generations of much of modern church growth will have left. Among the dangers that GuideStone No. 3 identifies is the new “networks” of churches that are springing up with the New Trendy gospel movement. When you examine them closely, you find that the emphasis placed on their “networking” is not on what they believe, but is almost exclusively centered in methodology. This is ultimately one of the most dangerous elements of the New Trendy gospel. Throughout the centuries the church has marched triumphantly from generation to generation, not because its fabric has been woven with threads of methodology, but because of the scarlet thread of doctrinal truth which has been passed from generation to generation for centuries. Never before have such influential church leaders of the evangelical world built large followings that have placed methodology over doctrine. Our spiritual forefathers “continued”. How? With, in and through the doctrinal truths which have given us the New Testament gospel.
These early church leaders foresaw this danger and subsequently in the second chapter of Acts set up GuideStone No. 3 to forever remind us of the importance of doctrinal truth in preserving the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
1. Criswell, Guidebook, 203.
2. Spurgeon, 747.
3. Maud Frazer Jackson, Masterpieces from Religious Verse, ed. James Dalton Morrison (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1971), 383.
4. Ogilvie, 61.
5. Wilmington, 371.